At the beginning of May 2023, we completed our third delivery of a pickup and medical supplies to Ukraine, cooperating with like-minded organizations to fulfill a very urgent request as quickly as possible. None of our missions works without teamwork, but this time, it was a very special case with an especially complex network. Thinking and acting quickly, we fulfilled a wish of a front-line Ukrainian unit in Donbas and got much needed operating-room supplies to Kramatorsk. Here’s how it happened.
When we started Pickup4Ukraine in January, we wrote to our friends, colleagues and families for their financial support. Their generosity yielded something more: contacts with other people working to aid Ukraine. A friend of Michael’s in California introduced us to Karen Widess of the CaliGirls, who since the beginning of the war have sponsored deliveries of vehicles, generators, clothing, night-vision devices, and much more. Meeting online, we discovered quickly that we had lots in common and might find an opportunity to work together.
That opportunity came sooner than expected. Oleksandr, law professor and CaliGirls member, had received an especially urgent request at the beginning of April from an airborne unit involved in heavy combat in the hottest area of Donbas. They did not have any suitable vehicles left for transport of supplies or evacuation of the wounded. Could someone get them a four-wheel-drive pickup…fast? CaliGirls and Pickup4Ukraine resolved to work together, with the CaliGirls handling the financing and Pickup4Ukraine procuring the truck and bringing it to Ukraine.
One unexpected side effect of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a run on pickups. Cheap, fuel efficient (compared with military vehicles,) and highly mobile, civilian pickups are the jeeps of this war. They’re so popular and essential that the market for used pickups has been swept clean in Ukraine. Neighboring Poland, too, has few left. That scarcity has brought the search for pickups increasingly to Germany—Pickup4Ukraine’s home turf. Even in Germany, though, there has been a steep price increase.
Sifting through online ads, we saw junk or inflated prices, subjectively 30%-40% higher than at the beginning of this year. After a week of searching and seeing a couple of duds, we found a candidate not too far away, in the Frankfurt area, at a reasonable price: a 2007 Nissan Navara D40. The seller, overwhelmed by well over 100 calls, was happy to take a cash offer and end his ordeal. The only catch: the four-wheel-drive would not engage, and the truck would have to go to the shop to have it repaired. Yuriy, our Ukrainian friend in Germany and resident car connoisseur who has inspected all of our vehicles, judged that it was otherwise in excellent condition and certainly roadworthy, so we took the risk.
Next we had to plan: cargo, documents, itinerary. Kati, our friend from the Begegnungshaus in Walldorf, had collected a trove of operating room materials (gowns, sheets, surgical staplers, and more.) Oleksandr of the CaliGirls also works with a group of Ukrainian lawyers, the Dead Lawyers’ Society, and they had an idea. A member, Maria, originally from Kramatorsk, knows the head of surgery in a hospital there—a quick check confirmed that they would love to get what Kati had to offer.
Our previous trips featured bureaucratic nightmares at the Polish-Ukrainian border, and on our March trip, “Together to the Future UA” came to our rescue by providing expert support and documents to get us to our destination. We turned again to Ilya of Together for the Future to get the necessary documents, which it sent in record time, allowing us to get on the road ASAP.
Within two days of picking up the vehicle, we had packed the medical supplies, had the documents, and set out after work on a Thursday, driving non-stop overnight from the Heidelberg area to the Polish-Ukrainian border, getting the required EU export declaration, and crossing the border. What in the past had been a multi-hour ordeal took only 90 minutes total this time, allowing us to push on to Lviv, where we were able to meet Oleksandr in person. After discussing with him, we pushed on to Kyiv and arrived late Friday evening. Serhiy, the front-line contact with the armed forces working with the CaliGirls, and Ilya, of Together to the Future, welcomed us.
On Saturday morning, the first order of business was to get the Nissan to the shop for the necessary repairs and give the medical supplies to Maria and Nadya the Dead Lawyers’ Society. Afterwards, Serhiy wanted to show us what the war had done to his neighborhood: destroyed houses, bridges, a shot-up maternity clinic. Ilya took time to show us Kyiv, which is very much alive, pulsating with activity, and indomitable in spirit.
On Sunday, Annette was able to reunite with the family whose kids stayed with her family for four months last year. They are safe, working and going to school, and at home. How circumstances have changed from a year ago.
We also had an opportunity to meet a psychologist, Sofia, who works with soldiers to prepare them for the experience of combat and to help them deal with the trauma of wounds or capture. She told us that things as simple as breathing exercises and learning self-control are critical in operating under the most difficult circumstances. Sofia also emphasized that all people must make moral choices, even life-or-death choices, to be fully human, and teaches her patients to be ready to make them.
Our pickup’s four-wheel drive turned out to be more of a mystery than previously thought, and it took until Tuesday to complete the repairs—too late for us to take it to Dnipro and present it to the ZSU unit ourselves as we had hoped. The consolation was that the mechanics were enthusiastic about the truck—after an oil change and a couple of minor repairs, they declared it to be in great shape. We had to leave on Tuesday evening to get back to work. Serhiy and Ilya stepped up to finish the job. On Wednesday morning, they drove to Dnipro and handed over the pickup—mission accomplished.
Annette and Michael boarded the overnight train to Poland, and, after a multi-hour delay at the border caused by president Zelensky crossing on his way to an unannounced visit to Helsinki, proceeded by taxi (no time for trains) to Rzeszów, where they boarded a flight to Frankfurt—a plane, train, and automobile odyssey.
An unbelievably complex network of acquaintances spanning from California to Germany to Ukraine, bringing together people of various nationalities, backgrounds, and experience, came together to make this happen. Most of us didn’t know each other a few months ago, but we have a common purpose and the desire to help.
Your donations and our activities join with the indomitable spirit of Ukrainians to make things happen. Working together, we solved a small but acute problem for soldiers fighting under unspeakable conditions, fighting for their freedom and ours. The examples they and our Ukrainian friends set only inspire us to do more. We are intensely grateful for the great cooperation among the CaliGirls, Begegnungshaus Walldorf, Together to the Future UA, and the Dead Lawyers’ Society and the remarkable people we met. The next trip is already in the making.